The robots are coming — well, their butts at least.
Researchers at Imperial College London have developed a training device for medical students that’s essentially a disembodied rear end.
Equipped with all the correct internal plumbing and combined with virtual reality and force feedback, the device serves as a high-tech training tool for junior doctors learning to check for otherwise hard-to-screen prostate and rectal cancers.
“I am not only able to see my performance, but also I can allow an instructor to tell me what I’m doing, how well I’m doing it, and what steps I should be performing,” says Dr. Alejandro Granado Martinez, a junior doctor at ICL, in a YouTube video demonstrating the technology.
Silly as it may look, the device serves a real need.
Approximately one out of every seven men will receive a prostate cancer diagnosis in his lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s the second-leading cause of cancer death in men behind lung cancer. Colorectal cancers are the third-leading cause.
The true genius of the new device is its force feedback.
When the user applies too much pressure, calibrated sensors will send an alert that they’re likely causing the patient discomfort. Likewise, if the doctor veers off-course in his or her examination, the device will let them know.
In addition to force feedback, the device has virtual-reality capabilities. Users can wear a pair of special glasses to see the internal structures of the body while they perform the procedure.
Other devices have offered a similar training experience for rectal exams, though with fewer of the bells and whistles.
Before these devices came along, students rarely got the chance to practice rectal examinations — for reasons that are probably obvious. There aren’t many willing participants who will allow inexperienced doctors to perform one of medicine’s trickiest, most intimate (and not to mention uncomfortable) procedures.
But in this case, technology has saved the day, and perhaps even a life.
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